Stevens: Jael Fanning Grows From Ugly Soccer Duckling Into Lobo Swan
Oct. 13, 2011
Lobo Women's Soccer -- At The Lobo Soccer Complex
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Fanning says she was a mess, an ugly duckling (in skills), a project that needed a lot of loving care and even more coaching.
"I wasn`t very good at first," said the New Mexico senior, who leads the Mountain West in assists with seven. "I just ran around out there and didn`t get to the ball very much.
"But I loved the game. I grew up watching my brother (Jared) and I wanted to play. My mom wouldn't let me play until I was sure it was something I wanted to do. I was sure and I told her I was ready to play."
Fanning got a late start in youth soccer considering so many kids start soccer before they start school. Fanning hit the grass at age nine.
She got better for several reasons, but two main ones were: 1- She was an athlete; 2- She worked her rear off.
From her humble roots in youth soccer, Fanning made the traditional steps up the soccer ladder. She played on top-notch club teams. She was a four-year letter-winner at La Cueva High and was a two-time state champion and a two-time all-state selection.
Then she had to select a college.
"I really wanted to go away to college, but after visiting some other schools nothing clicked or sparked my interest and everything I valued and loved was here," said Fanning. "It was a program and coaches I respected and my best friend from La Cueva, Alexis Ball, came here and loved it. There was just no reason to go away. I wanted to be here."
The Lobos wanted Fanning, too, and a lot of that had to do with her club coach, Jorge Vela, who also was the UNM assistant coach.
Vela had a lot of advantages over other college coaches, who looked at Fanning and saw a rail of a soccer player, who might make it in college and might not. Vela knew the fierce heart of a competitor that beat strongly within that slim frame.
He also knew about Fanning's work ethic. "You knew if she wanted something, she would put in the work to get it," said Vela.
Fanning wanted to be a Lobo and it's probably fair to say it surprised a few people when the skinny girl from La Cueva quickly became a fixture in UNM's lineup.
And got better and better with each minute played and each season she tucked behind her.
She played 809 minutes in 2008 as a freshman, 1,483 as a sophomore and 1,381 in 2010 as a junior. She has 1,183 minutes and 14 starts this season heading into Friday's game.
In a way, the Fanning of 2011 is to a Lobo striker what an O-lineman is to a running back. She gets them into the scoring zone. There is something else about Fanning this season. She has gone to another level.
"I think I finally realized that I've worked hard to get where I'm at and I have the skills and the understanding of the game to push for another level," said Fanning, who carries a 4.08 GPA. "I was kind of just going with the flow before and doing fine, but this is the end of the road for soccer and that thought is pushing me.
Fanning isn't always one of those soccer players, who stands out on the soccer field -- unless you happen to track what she is doing. Then, she is outstanding.
One week this season, she scored the winning goal against New Mexico State and assisted the winning goal against Oklahoma. She was named the Mountain West Offensive Player of The Week.
If you happen to watch Fanning during the National Anthem, it might appear that she is muttering to herself -- and she is! She will follow a quick prayer with a quick bit of self-motivation.
"I've never been super confident in my pure talent," she said. "I know I've had to work really hard for what I get. Before one game, I told myself, `You are a great player and you deserve to be on this field and make a difference.'
"I gave myself an ego boost and I guess it worked." Yep, it worked. That was the New Mexico State game in which Fanning had one goal and two assists.
Jorge Vela says that, "When Jael says something, the other girls stop and listen."
Sounds like Jael listens to herself, too.